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If past history can be any guide, gender-based violence (GBV) tends to increase during humanitarian crises and emergencies. There is currently no cure for the deadly COVID-19 virus which is why imposing a lockdown has been necessary. While doing so may reduce risks of virus transmission the case of Zimbabwe suggests that doing so can increase risks for those vulnerable to gender-based violence (GBV). Thus, now more than ever, it is paramount that nations like Zimbabwe work to develop more effective strategies to protect those vulnerable to GBV.

In Zimbabwe, it is often the woman who is more vulnerable to polymorphous forms of abuses. GBV affects all genders, but females are victimized more frequently. In general, the lockdown imposed in Zimbabwe amid the COVID-19 pandemic has helped to reduce criminal activity. Fewer people on the streets means less crime. However, while violence against women in public spaces has inevitably declined, the reverse is true for gender-based violence (GBV) that occurs in private. 

Regardless of the conventions, charters, forums, conferences, constitutions, and governmental and non-governmental organisations fighting against violence against women and girls, it continues to be pervasive and its effects are detrimental to the lives of the abused.

The lockdown in Zimbabwe has been in place since March 30. The government has not hinted at when the current lockdown will end. To the dismay of many who are suffering during this period, the lockdown could stretch many more weeks if not months. From a sociological perspective, this uncertainty poses a serious social problem, as these victims or survivors of GBV are now forced to spend days, weeks, and months with their perpetrators.

Living so closely together for an extended period can exacerbate tensions between couples, which increases the likelihood of domestic violence. In such situations women’s bodies often become battlefields, they are susceptible to physical, sexual, emotional/psychological, and economic deprivation, among other forms of violence.Three out of every ten women in Zimbabwe have been affected by GBV during their lifetime according to doctoral research conducted by one of the co-authors of this article. In 2016, there were 8,069 rapes reported to police in Zimbabwe. An average of  22 reported rapes per day is devastating and these numbers have continued to trend upwards. While 2020 numbers are likely to be lower, much of that decline can be attributed to the increased obstacles women face to report to the police due to the lockdown.

GBV and The Lockdown

The Zimbabwe Republic Police has stated that their units are continuing to investigate reports of GBV.  They have provided a special emergency phone number during the 

lockdown for potential victims.While mobile telephones are widespread in Zimbabwe, not all women have access to one. Indeed mobile phone penetration has dropped in the past two years – a symptom of a worsening economy. The unequal power dynamics that tend to exist in relations between the two domestic actors (that is, husband and wife, or male and female partners), one finds himself or herself in a disadvantaged position if there is only one telecommunications device. 

Even if they have the means, women often do not report such cases because of fear and stigma from paternal and maternal relatives. Economic dependence is another factor that continues to give the leeway to the perpetrators to abuse their financially dependent partner without reservation.

The government of Zimbabwe and governments worldwide need to pay more attention to the social problems that are getting exacerbated during the lockdown such as GBV. More support facilities and information should be made available. There are many entities that exist which can support women and prevent GBV, but few people have knowledge of the resources offered. For example, Zimbabwean women can make use of the various agencies and legal structures such as the Zimbabwe Domestic Act of 2007, the Zimbabwe Republic Police Victim Friendly Unit (VFU), the Zimbabwe Constitution, the office of the Ministry of Women, Gender and Community development, and local non-governmental organizations namely the Musasa project, and Padare Enkhundlen Men’s Forum.

Furthermore, there are many other well-respected international institutions that can be catalysts for a new approach to tackling GBV in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean government can work more closely with international organizations such as UNICEF, USAID, and World Vision to scale their efforts to protect women and girls.

Running more awareness campaigns disseminating information in homes, schools, and other public spheres would go a long way in changing societal attitudes towards gender-based violence. Efforts should be made to increase solidarity between men and women equipping people with knowledge from a young age on what to do, where to go, and when to report gender-based violence abuses. If relevant stakeholders and players (both government and non-government) could work more closely together to address gender-based violence, the plight of the victimized would be eased.

All the recommendations highlighted above are viable strategies for improving information sharing, which can lead to the reduction in cases of gender based violence against women, not just during the lockdown but, also more broadly.

The lockdown presents a unique opportunity for the government to confront the issue head on with a more captive national audience. Zimbabwe can build a stronger support network for GBV victims. Developing better systems now can have long-term dividends for society going into the future.

Maybe Zengenene is a doctoral researcher in Indonesia on gender based violence.


The article was edited by Tatenda Mabikacheche



The traditional medium of terrestrial radio retains a wide reach in most African countries, reaching millions who have no access to the internet. It is a trusted, low-cost source of news and information, and platform for ordinary citizens to share their views. As UN secretary-general António Guterres has said, “Even in today’s world of digital communications, radio reaches more people than any other media platform.”

But radio has also evolved as digital technology has changed the media landscape. And talk radio has changed from being an analogue communication tool that relies on top-down information flow to a dynamic forum that relies on multiple feedback loops. Stanley Tsarwe, journalism lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, explored this trend in a paper titled “Mobile Phones and a Million Chatter: Performed Inclusivity and Silenced Voices in Zimbabwean Talk Radio.”

Tsarwe says he wanted to observe what was happening at the convergence of radio, smartphones, and mobile-based apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter. He found that these technologies had indeed grown public discourse, allowing more inclusive debate between radio presenters and audiences. The downside is that newsrooms often find it difficult to manage the high level of audience interaction, with the result that many voices are excluded.

Still, more voices than before are being heard in Zimbabwe, where the authorities have often resorted to restricting the right to freedom of expression, like instructing Internet service providers in January 2019 to shut down the Internet.

Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono
Hopewell Chin’ono

Clampdown on Freedom of Speech

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has recently started to emulate the heavy-handed tactics of former president Robert Mugabe against political opponents and critics of his government.

On July 20, the police arrested Hopewell Chin’ono, a prominent investigative journalist who had recently exposed alleged government corruption. He is being accused of incitement to overthrow the government through an uprising. He was denied bail and will appear in court again on August 7.

Amnesty International has criticized the Zimbabwean authorities for continuing their crackdown on dissent with the arrest of Chin’ono, saying they “must stop misusing the criminal justice system to persecute journalists and activists who are simply exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.


President Emmerson Mnangagwa and a member of the Commercial Farmers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Photo via Twitter)
President Emmerson Mnangagwa and a member of the Commercial Farmers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Photo via Twitter)

President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe announced an agreement had been struck with the Commercial Farmers’ Union to compensate farmers whose land had been seized during former president Robert Mugabe’s agriculture reform efforts in the early 2000s. He said Zimbabwe would pay US$3.5 billion in compensation for infrastructure but not for the land itself. He did not give details about the amounts to be paid to individual farmers or their descendants, nor how the country will be able to afford this large sum of money considering its dire socio-economic situation.

The Mugabe regime evicted 4,500 white farmers and redistributed the farms to black families as part of a land reform program to redress colonial imbalances.


Authoritarian Rule

Two days after Mnangagwa’s announcement, his administration deployed security forces to close down the capital Harare and arrest several dozen activists in response to mass demonstrations on July 31. The protest action, organized by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, was planned to coincide with a general strike against the deteriorating socio-economic conditions in the country. Internationally acclaimed novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga was among the protesters who were arrested.

Resolving the land question was a precondition placed on Mnangagwa by Western powers in 2017 in order to lift crippling sanctions and reintegrate Zimbabwe into the global community. This could explain Mnangagwa prioritizing compensation for expropriated farms while maintaining the same hardline approach against dissent as his predecessor, who also used military force to quell civil disobedience.


Patrick Chinamasa
Patrick Chinamasa (Alexander Joe/AFP)

Patrick Chinamasa, spokesperson for Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party, accused United States ambassador Brian Nichols of “engaging in acts of mobilizing and funding disturbances, coordinating violence and training insurgents” in an effort to topple the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa. “Diplomats should not behave like thugs, and Brian Nichols is a thug,” he said. He provided no evidence to back these serious claims, and the US embassy in Harare did not immediately respond to the allegations.

Former president Robert Mugabe frequently invoked similar rhetoric during his 42 years in power, accusing the United States and Great Britain on several occasions of aiming to institute regime change.


More than 105,000 people have been arrested since March for violating lockdown regulations


This latest accusation comes a few days ahead of a planned mass demonstration on July 31. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance and Zimbabwean civil society organizations have urged Zimbabweans to take to the streets to protest against government corruption, the declining Zimbabwean economy, and harsh COVID-19 lockdown measures.

The authorities have warned against the demonstration, claiming concerns of spreading COVID-19. However, opposition leaders accuse the government of using the lockdown measures as cover to stifle political dissent and target the opposition. The police have confirmed that more than 105,000 people have been arrested since March for violating lockdown regulations.


miner zimb
A sign at a Zimbabwean mine makes it clear that firearms are not allowed. (Photo via AFP)

Two Zimbabwean workers at a gold mine on the outskirts of Gweru in central Zimbabwe were shot by their Chinese boss on Sunday, June 21. The incident has rekindled long-standing tensions about Chinese nationals living in the southern African country.

A court affidavit submitted by the Zimbabwean police alleges that Zhang Xuelin shot Kenneth Tachiona five times, reportedly in both thighs, and another employee, Wendy Chikwaira, had his chin grazed by a bullet. Workers at Reden Mine in Gweru had confronted Xuelin over his alleged failure to pay their wages in US dollars, as had been agreed previously, according to the affidavit. US dollars are highly sought-after in Zimbabwe, which has experienced repeated cash shortages and inflation spikes since its currency was effectively abandoned in 2009.

The Gweru case brings to mind a 2010 shooting in neighboring Zambia. Two Chinese mine managers were charged with the attempted murder of eleven workers at the Chinese-owned Collum Coal Mine in Sinazongwe after a protest over pay and conditions became heated. Despite being a decade apart, the two cases demonstrate an ongoing pattern of African workers feeling disgruntled by the systemic imbalance of their relationship with Chinese interests.



The number of Chinese nationals in Africa has increased over the past two decades. At least 10,000 Chinese nationals now live and work in Zimbabwe, according to the Brookings Institute. The population in Zambia is significantly higher. Many of these migrants are employed as contractors for Chinese companies delivering extensive infrastructure, construction, manufacturing, and mining projects. This model of investment frustrates African executives, commentators, and workers, who argue that it deprives locals of employment and training opportunities. There is, however, evidence to suggest that Chinese firms employ, pay, and train Africans at similar rates as non-Chinese companies.

That sentiment reflects more deep-seated misgivings about the equity of large deals that African governments sign with Chinese companies. These include loans, construction projects, and extraction rights for natural resources. For example, in April 2019, Chinese firm Tsingshan committed to investing US$2 billion to mine chrome, iron ore, nickel, and coal in Zimbabwe, cementing China’s place as the country’s largest foreign investor. At the same time, Shanghai Construction Group is constructing a new US$140 million six-story parliament building, apparently a donation from the Chinese government. But many Zimbabweans are skeptical of such gestures. Few regard it as unadulterated altruism. And the lack of transparency fuels speculation.


Postcolonial Partnership?

China’s extensive leverage in Zimbabwe, and elsewhere, does not look like the postcolonial partnership promised in the 1970s. Indeed, the legacy of racist settler colonialism provides an alarming comparison for Zimbabweans when they hear stories of managers shooting employees or, as happened in Zambia recently, Chinese vendors denying service to black customers.

This is a particularly sensitive time for Sino-African relations. In April, reports of African migrants in Guangzhou, home to China’s largest African community, being targeted for forced testing and quarantine, evicted from their accommodation, and denied hospitality went viral and sparked outrage on social media. Human Rights Watch accused Guangdong authorities of “textbook” discrimination. Many feel that it is one rule for the Chinese in Africa and quite another for Africans in China.

The COVID-19 crisis has also elevated concerns about debt, at a time when economic paralysis is hampering governments’ ability to maintain payments. About 20 percent of African government external debt is owed to China. According to reports, China has offered relief from interest-free loans, but these loans make up less than 5 percent of its total lending.

In a recent interview, former Zimbabwean minister Gordon Moyo, now director of the country’s Public Policy and Research Institute, described China’s lending as “illegitimate” and said the East Asian country was at risk of being “a new imperialist.”


Money Matters

Having been shot repeatedly in both legs, Kenneth Tachiona faces the prospect of being disabled for the rest of his life. But with a wife and five children, his concerns are very pragmatic. In an interview with VOA, he said: “Of course I want the law to take its course, but I’m now disabled, and for me, the most important thing is to be compensated adequately.” Money being his most pressing concern reflects the same hard realities facing his government.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has emphasized the importance of impartial justice in this case. Likewise, the Chinese embassy declared its respect for Zimbabwe’s right to handle the situation “in accordance with the law.” At the same time, however, they asked to see Zimbabwe “protect the safety as well as legitimate rights and interests” of Chinese nationals in the country. President Mnangagwa echoed the sentiment and did not accept the view that the shooting was reflective of “systemic and widespread” abuse by Chinese employers, as some prominent civil society groups have claimed.

With mounting debt, a health crisis, and uncertain support from the West, there is little prospect of Zimbabwe—or any of its neighbors—untangling itself from Chinese interests.


Jesse Samasuwo is a London-based analyst writing and researching international affairs, primarily focused on energy, trade, and politics.



Zim Money


The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) has accused mobile money platform  EcoCash of playing a role in the rapid devaluation of the country’s currency, and characterizing it as a “Ponzi scheme” in court documents. This about-face comes after the RBZ recently released figures showing that mobile money transfers made up the bulk of Zimbabwe’s National Payment System, the financial mechanism used by the Reserve Bank to manage commercial and financial transactions.

With more than 11 million users, EcoCash is the dominant phone-based money transfer system in Zimbabwe.

This has not stopped regulators from alleging that EcoCash has been committing illegal currency dealings by allowing its agents to have an overdraft on their EcoCash accounts, funds the bank believes are used to buy foreign currency and artificially inflate the exchange rate.


Zimbabwe’s financial woes are compounded by international sanctions.


Millions of Zimbabweans have come to depend on mobile money wallets to handle not only digital payments but also salaries and remittances. The convenience of digital cash has made it popular in the country’s informal economy sector—the largest in Africa and second-largest in the world—but it also comes with its own set of risks, namely the difficulty in acquiring hard currency due to exorbitant commissions charged by these mobile money platforms.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Zimbabwe’s financial woes are compounded by a famine in the north threatening millions and international sanctions. African Union chair Cyril Ramaphosa has been urging the G20, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe to help the nation deal with the pandemic.


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